UK: Online Advertising And Website Sales Copy

Last Updated: 18 November 2010
Article by Jill Benbow

So you want to start advertising your goods or services to increase sales. There is no question that the web is the fastest growing medium and lets you reach a very targeted audience. It also allows you to monitor the success of your advert. There has been a lot written about how to advertise and how to use pay per click, but what should you actually say (and not say!) in your advert?

Here are some simple rules to help you keep the right side of the law when writing your own website copy.

What should I say about my business?

You do not have a free rein in relation to the content or arrangement of your own websites. Certain details concerning the business must be provided on the site in an easily accessible manner. You must specify your business's trading name and the name of any company it trades through, the names of the directors (or a statement that such names are available for inspection at your registered office), the address of your registered office and your company registration and VAT numbers. You must also make it clear where you can be contacted, by phone (legally you do not have to give a phone number, but can you afford not to?), email, fax etc. and a correspondence address should also be specified if it's different to that of your registered office. It is a criminal offence to miss out these basic details.

What should I say about my goods or services?

The Trade Description Act will apply to what you say on your website, just as it would to your paper adverts, as will the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (applies if you are selling to consumers). In general terms, traders must not make commercial communications to consumers which are:

  • actually misleading (by act or omission);
  • aggressive, i.e., by suggesting that if you do not take this offer up NOW, something terrible is going to happen;
  • accurate; it may well be the best product in its class, but to say so can lead to accusations that you have incorrectly described the product. One common way round this is to refer to survey results or an independent publication, e.g., 'eight out of ten people said it is the best product in its class', or 'according to "What Product Magazine", it is the best product in its class'. Try and stick to the facts, and steer clear of claims you cannot prove; and
  • complete; you must also give the consumer sufficient information about the product, to make an 'informed transactional decision', so that they know the delivery times and the life of the product, or whether they need to buy additional batteries for it. An omission can therefore be just as serious as an inaccurate description.

You will need to ensure that all of this information is either in one place, or can be read together, relatively easily, using links or references.

What promises can I make?

If a buyer of your product/service argues that a statement that appeared on your website which induced them to buy your product and the statement is subsequently found to be untrue, you're in trouble. Such statements are a representation by you about the product or service and they need to be accurate. Performance indicators often cause the biggest problem. Saying that something will work for ten times longer than its competitor, and then it only works for four times as long, leaves you open to a misrepresentation action and you may be held liable to compensate the buyer for the loss. If the information comes from the manufacturer, you can still be liable if you publish it on the website, because you have assumed responsibility for it by including it within your product's description. Although you would be able to reclaim your loss from the manufacturer, you may not want to have this problem. You might consider instead linking to the manufacturer's site or providing the information in a way that makes it very clear who is making the claim.

Can I offer guidance and advice?

If you recommend a way of using your product or service (e.g., give directions, installation instructions etc.) or a person who can install or repair that product, then you will have to stand behind that recommendation. You might therefore say that all your technicians exceed some specification of quality or training. If that is not correct, then you may be liable for any loss suffered by the consumer or buyer (though do note that claiming to have qualifications in this way is often less risky than claiming that the product will perform in a certain way).

What about 'special industries'?

There are a number of special industries that are subject to a higher level of restrictions in their advertising materials. These include such areas as financial services, and food and drink products, tobacco and alcohol. If you are dealing in these products or services you need to check what further restrictions apply.

Do I really have to comply with these requirements?

Yes! Trading Standards are very hot on compliance with the law and have the power to take down your website. Consumers and buyers are often clued up on their rights and won't stand for breaches of their rights. They may sue you and win or report you to Trading Standards. Cases of fraud or obtaining property by deception attract serious civil and criminal penalties, respectively. Lastly, and most importantly, in this day and age of rapid information transmission and so much choice, your reputation matters. It is no wonder that sellers through eBay choose to look after their buyers (on the whole) very well; they don't want buyers to shop elsewhere!


All of the above can be quite daunting, especially if all you want to do is convey your message through your website in the way you think best. You may find using a disclaimer helpful in this type of situation. A properly-worded disclaimer makes it clear that anything you say on your website is not meant to form or be part of a contract between you and your customers, and that your customers should themselves evaluate the products and/or service you recommend. It isn't a perfect safety net (the courts will still look at whether you influence the customer's buying decision in a way you should not), but it does give you some contractual protection. It is not possible to offer a precedent disclaimer because, as a matter of law, there are some areas for which you cannot disclaim liability and, more importantly, what you disclaim needs to relate to what you say in the first place.


If you want help with what you say on your site, how you deal with your customers and any part of how you trade online, then do get in touch with us.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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